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Sam Trull
Sam Trull

The Human Who Teaches Orphan Sloths How to Be Wild Animals

Sam Trull
Sam Trull

Sam Trull was never prouder of Kermie than when she watched him fight another sloth for the first time.

The two-toed sloth was hanging upside down from a tree branch when the scuffle began. Kermie—strawberry blonde, orphaned, hand-raised by Trull, still learning how to be wild—scrapped with the bigger, older, and wilder Diablo, who clearly wasn’t thrilled with this newcomer to his small patch of Costa Rican rainforest.

Unexpectedly, a sloth fight isn’t some sort of slow-motion martial art that's not actually violent, like capoiera or tai chi. Instead, it involves quite dangerous combatants armed with sharp, bacteria-riddled teeth and dagger-like curved claws on their hands moving at a not-unusual speed. Yes, sloths are slow, but they can move faster than you think.

As Trull watched, Kermie and Diablo hissed and snapped and scratched at each other. The fight didn’t last long. After a few minutes, Diablo backed down.

Kermie had won.

“He was the first baby I ever raised from a newborn,” she says. “To know that he can interact with other sloths he’s never met—and then fight them and win—is amazing.”

Trull runs the Sloth Institute Costa Rica, a small nonprofit organization—co-founded by Trull, a zoologist, and her business partner, Seda Sejud, in August 2014—that rescues, rehabilitates, and releases orphaned sloths into the wild. She is one of the handful of researchers studying the six sloth species that live in Central and South America, and her work with the creatures is documented in her new book Slothlove (inkshares). Filled with gorgeous photos and fascinating facts, Slothlove touches on Trull’s journey from primatologist to sloth-ologist. But its focus is the many sloths she’s tried to help.

Wildlife rescue centers aren’t uncommon in Costa Rica, and several handle sloths. But few currently attempt to release the creatures back into the wild. In the past, that’s often been a death sentence for the animals.

Trull is trying nevertheless. She’s faced with an extraordinarily difficult task: rescue and heal a biologically unique mammal whose physiology is only somewhat understood; nurture it without taming it; train it in the sloth skills it will need to survive in the wild, even though we know little about how sloth mothers teach their babies; and release it into the rainforest, where it may not know which plants to eat (because we only know some of them) or how it will interact with wild sloths (because we know even less about their social interactions).

That’s why Kermie’s fight was such a huge milestone for Trull. When she met him, he was a tiny week-old orphan, the only survivor of a set of twins. She fed, nurtured, played with, nuzzled, snuggled, trained, and then eventually let go of Kermie, who after several months in a large training compound has been largely living independently since October 2015. Somehow, through a mix of instinct and, Trull hopes, her training, the human-raised Kermie is managing not only to live wild, but—if his scuffle with Diablo is any indication—even to kick some ass.

Kermie the sloth hangs upside down

Trull arrived in Costa Rica in 2013 after spending nearly two decades working with primates both in the U.S. and abroad. With a master’s degree from the UK's Oxford Brookes in primate conservation, she spent most of that time at the Duke Lemur Center, the largest prosimian sanctuary in the world.

In 2007, Trull lost both her fiancé in a car crash and her father to bone marrow cancer; the two died just six months apart. She spent the next few years wandering between the U.S. and Africa, grief stricken, directionless.

Then she moved to Costa Rica. She found a job at a small wildlife rehabilitation clinic on the Pacific coast called Kids Saving the Rainforest, which opened in 1999 in Manuel Antonio thanks to the efforts of two 9-year-old girls (with a lot of help from their mothers). The lush region draws many tourists, both Tico (Costa Rican) and foreign, and many expats have settled there. Between the hotels, homes, roads, and infrastructure, habitat encroachment has taken a serious toll on the region’s wildlife. The clinic needed someone trained in wild animal care to look after the many animals people brought to the clinic—squirrel monkeys zapped by electrical wires, sloths mauled by dogs, a wide variety of animals hit by cars.

Trull had experience in the field, and she needed a new purpose. In healing wild animals, she might also heal herself.

Less than a month after she arrived at KSRT, Kermie was brought in.

a baby sloth

As tree dwellers, sloths cling to each other for both safety and comfort; and so Kermie clung to Trull. As she would with the others, she fed him milk through a nipple-capped syringe, wrapped him in blankets, cradled him against her all the time. She had no idea how to care for a newborn sloth, but she had to do something.

Monster, Elvis, Ellie, Newbie, and Chuck (named after her father) all followed. Soon Trull had a half-dozen orphaned sloths living in her apartment. They were a mix of two-toed and three-toed sloths belonging to one of the two sloth species that live in Costa Rica: the brown-throated three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) and Hoffmann’s two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni).

They all needed basically the same thing: a mother. (Fathers have no role in rearing.) In the wild, up in the trees, a baby sloth spends about six months in gestation (Hoffmann's two-toed sloths for 11 months) and about the same amount of time after birth clinging to its mom. It’s clear this is a safety issue; a fall from a tree can be deadly. Even if a baby sloth manages to survive, it’s then largely helpless on the forest floor, unable to escape predators or survive on its own.

It’s also a temperature issue. As heterothermic creatures, sloths regulate their body temperature through their environment. Holding onto mom keeps a baby sloth warm. It may also keep its gut bacteria at the right temperature to digest its leaf-heavy diet.

But there’s more to it than that. Sloths are intense cuddlers. They must touch, at least early on in their lives. Whatever physical contact they don’t get from Trull, they get from each other, forming ongoing alliances and relationships. Chuck rides around on Monster. Elvis play-fights with Bruno. If no companions are around, a stuffed animal will do for comfort.

Two-toed sloths also—for lack of a better term—make out. Tongues are involved. “They ‘French kiss,’” says Trull. While kissing appears to be a sign of affection, it also likely fulfills a biological function—perhaps the exchange of bacteria and enzymes.

Mothers also teach survival skills. Diet must be part of it. But does a mom sloth teach her child how to hide, sleep in a tree, or move from branch to branch? Or is this all instinctual? We don’t know. Sloths are notoriously difficult to observe because they are masters of stealth.

Trull did what she could to keep them fed, play with them, and let them explore within a protected environment.


Sam Trull
Chuck snuggles.

Her devotion to the sloths soon caught the attention of the BBC, who profiled her work in a series called Nature’s Miracle Orphans. (It aired in the U.S. on Nature.) The clip below highlights her attempts to care for four-month-old Newbie, a three-toed sloth whose mother had been killed by a dog.

As she did with the other orphan sloths, Trull tried to replace the mom sloth Newbie had lost as best she could. She fetched Newbie the perfect guarumo leaf to snack. She positioned Newbie’s cuddle pillow in the perfect patch of doze-worthy afternoon sun. 

Then Newbie got pneumonia. Four months of twice-daily oxygen treatments and injections couldn’t save her. After she died, Trull cradled her body for three hours. Her experience with Newbie cemented her desire to focus on sloths.

About a year later, in October 2014, someone brought to KSTR a pregnant sloth who had a severe head injury after falling out of a tree. She was having seizures—slow seizures, in sloth fashion. And then she went into labor. It wasn’t productive. Trull started to worry both mother and baby would die.

Detecting health problems in sloths is difficult because they are also masters of deception. When hiding is your best defense, cloaking your vulnerabilities is an important survival mechanism. “That makes it really hard to care for them because you don’t know something’s wrong oftentimes until it’s too late,” Trull says. “So you have to guess. Sometimes I go on my gut reaction. I can’t explain why something’s wrong, but something’s wrong. If you try to tell that to a vet, they look at you like you’re crazy.”

In this case, the vet Trull consulted about the pregnant sloth didn’t look at her like she was crazy. Instead, she ordered an x-ray. It revealed that the baby was breech. The two decided on an unprecedented course: a sloth C-section. Fully documented by Trull’s ever-present camera, the surgery made headlines worldwide.

Unfortunately, mother and baby both died a week later. The mother’s necropsy was inconclusive. The baby’s cause of death was no clearer. They classified it as a failure to thrive.

It was around that time that Trull shifted her attention to the Sloth Institute, which she and Sejud had launched just a few months before. The focus is the three Rs of wild animal care—rescue, rehab, release—along with one additional R: research.

a sloth undergoing a c-section

a newborn sloth

The big idea was to keep these animals as wild as possible during their time in full-time human care so that they could hopefully thrive in the jungle on their own. The tricky part was that the very human Trull was going to have to train them to be wild. Trull reached out to other sloth researchers in Costa Rica and Colombia for advice and insights and pored over the relatively scant scientific literature on sloths.

Then, inspired by the “boot camp” at the Duke Lemur Center—a forested enclosure where lemurs practiced being lemurs before being released in Madagascar—she and Sejud built a 19-foot-by-19-foot-by-19-foot cage near the field site where they hoped to eventually release sloths. (Trull found housing nearby; her home is currently sloth free.) The sloths spend several months in the enclosure, which provides a protected slice of rainforest where they can work on survival skills like climbing, finding food, not falling, moving slowly, being very still, and sleeping.

When Trull thinks they’re ready, she gives them a “soft release”: “The doors open, and then they can come and go as they please until they feel comfortable enough to be on their own and they’re eating enough wild food on their own,” Trull says.

So far, just two sloths have had a soft release: Kermie and Ellie, another two-toed sloth. Both are doing well so far.

Their movements are tracked thanks to the VHF (“very high frequency”) collars they wear. Trull’s four research assistants observe and track Kermie and Ellie every night from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. (Two-toed sloths are nocturnal.) The first time Kermie slept all day in the rainforest—the nocturnal sloth equivalent of a first sleepover party—was, like the fight with Diablo, a milestone.

They also spy on wild sloths to find out what they eat and how they behave. If the researchers note a wild sloth eating a particular kind of leaf, for instance, they’ll gather some of those leaves and introduce them to the orphan sloths’ diet. Just last week they got permission to collar their first wild sloth, whom the research assistants, all British, decided to call Percy. Because Percy is of similar age and size to Kermie, “he will give us a better idea of what Kermie should be doing,” Trull says.

Understandably, there has been a lot of trial and error during this process. Not every sloth has survived. They generally don’t do well in captivity. Some have succumbed to the injuries that landed them in Trull’s care in the first place. Others withered away for mysterious reasons; they may have had genetic conditions that led to their abandonment. The first iteration of the boot camp cage didn’t work so well; built far from the release site, it wasn’t snakeproof, and Kermie and Ellie’s companion there, Pelota, was fatally bitten by a venomous fer-de-lance pit viper. Her death was a heartbreaking loss—and bitter lesson—for Trull, who is as openly in love with these animals as she is fascinated with them as a scientist.

“It was so devastating,” she says. “But it was also obviously a big learning experience.”

Not being snakeproof wasn’t the only problem with the cage. It also enclosed a patch of jungle that was less than ideal. If the trees had been taller, for example, Pelota may have been able to climb higher than a fer-de-lance can go.

They built the second cage near the release site, where the trees are “better,” Trull says, and the rainforest the sloths are meant to call home after release is right outside the cage door.

a two-toed sloth

One of the main challenges facing sloth rescue, rehab, and release is that there is still so much we don’t know about sloth biology, ecology, reproduction, social structure, or intelligence. Much of their lives remains mysterious.

Here is what we do know. There are two families and six species. Two are two-toed sloths, and four are three-toed sloths. Calling them two- or three-toed is a misnomer; it’s their hands that are different, so it’s more accurate to call them two- or three-fingered. (For simplicity’s sake, we’re calling them “-toed” throughout this article.) All species have three toes. They can have more bones in their neck than a giraffe—and the number of vertebrae varies by individual.

a sloth hanging upside town

Two-toed sloths are substantially bigger than three-toed sloths (13 pounds versus 9 pounds on average) and they have a broader diet than the strictly herbivorous three-toed sloth, eating eggs, insects, small vertebrates, and even dirt. In Costa Rica, hibiscus flowers and cinnamon tree leaves are favorites.

Their teeth are unique among mammals, lacking both incisors and enamel, which leads to discoloration from the leaves they eat. Their mouths are riddled with bacteria, and the two-toed sloths have a particularly nasty bite. One sloth clamped down on Trull’s ring finger while she was feeding it, and it was only thanks to people nearby prying the sloth’s mouth open that she was able to free her finger. She had to take systemic antibiotics for weeks, and in the end she still lost the nail.

Sloths have the slowest metabolisms and least muscle mass of any mammal of their size (and yet “abs of steel,” Trull writes, allow them to spend much of their lives upside down). It takes a long time for them to digest food; leaves can take a month to process. And although they can be affectionate in captivity, the famous sloth “smile” is actually caused by a lack of expressive facial muscles. In fact, they stress easily. A good indication of a freaked-out sloth is large pupils.

A sloth may only poop weekly or even monthly, and three-toed sloths take a long and dangerous descent to the forest floor to defecate and urinate. When they do go, they can lose about one-third of their body weight. Three-toed sloths bury their waste using their stubby tail to dig a hole. In captivity, they may relieve themselves almost daily.

They are indeed slow. Their sluggish metabolism, combined with a leaf-rich diet—which, from a food energy perspective, isn’t very rich at all—keeps sloths in first gear almost all of the time. That can be good news when it comes to avoiding attention. Sloth movements are so slow, they fall beneath the detection threshold of most predators. But it can be bad news for a sloth that mistakes an electrical wire for a branch, as happens often enough in Costa Rica. If it grabs on, it’s likely to get severely sizzled before it can let go. Its muscles simply can’t respond fast enough before it gets injured.

Despite their lazy reputation, sloths may not sleep as much as we once thought. A recent study [PDF] of wild sloths in Panama that found they sleep on average 9.5 hours a day in the wild. (They can sleep as long as 16 hours a day in captivity.) Being on the alert for predators may keep them awake longer.

Their hair is uniquely structured. They grow algae both on and inside their hair. The benefit of this is unclear: It may help them to blend into the trees better. It may also have a nutritional benefit. While some research suggests sloths may eat the algae, Trull is doubtful. (“I’ve never seen a sloth lick its arm,” she notes.) She is more inclined to support another theory: that the hair acts like a straw sucking the algae close to the skin, where its nutrients are absorbed. (One study found that a type of algae that only lives on sloths is passed from mother to child.) Their hair can be home to a range of other creatures, including moths, beetles, fungi, and roaches.

Their hair sucks up scents, too, and will hold onto them for weeks. For this reason, anyone who works with sloths slated for return to the wild can’t wear perfume, lotions, or—hard to imagine in the rain forest—bug spray.

They can live a relatively long time for mammals of their size: anywhere from 10 to 50 years.


Despite their similarities, two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths are quite different. Two-toed sloths are more active, aggressive, and nocturnal. Three-toed sloths are less energetic and confrontational, and they’re mostly diurnal.

A clue to their differences lies in their evolutionary history. Remarkably, two-toed sloths and three-toed sloths aren’t closely related. They split from each other at least 40 million years ago, and perhaps as far back as 64 million years ago. While two-toed sloths are descended from giant ground sloths, three-toed sloths owe their genetic line to some arboreal creature.

Sloths are one of the most extreme examples of convergent evolution, when the same environmental pressures cause similar adaptations in different creatures, resulting in uncanny similarities despite a lack of common ancestry (at least recently). While convergent evolution is a long-known, fascinating, and yet quite common phenomenon in its own right—another example is the long, sticky tongue that arose separately among anteaters, armadillos, aardvarks, and pangolin—it's notable that the adaptations these different sloth families made over millions of years rendered them so similarly unique. Or uniquely similar. Among mammals, sloths are, well, weirdos. Tens of millions of years of natural selection has led the different families to be weird in similar—though not identical—ways.

“They’re just completely different animals. They probably shouldn’t have the same name,” says zoologist Becky Cliffe. A Ph.D. student at Swansea University who has been studying sloths in affiliation with the Sloth Sanctuary, another wildlife rehabilitation clinic in Costa Rica, Cliffe is looking into the ecology and genetics of sloths. Her main tool? A backpack. Specifically, a GPS-loaded animal backpack originally designed for penguins by biologist Rory Wilson, Cliffe’s Ph.D. supervisor. In the past six years, Cliffe has strapped these backpacks onto 15 three-toed sloths and 9 two-toed sloths. Some she followed for three years continuously. She has noted multiple differences between the two species in Costa Rica, which represent the two sloth lineages.

“They’re 64 million years apart,” Cliffe says. “It’s like calling an anteater a sloth. They’re not the same. We can’t really group them as the same animal when we’re talking about them scientifically, and much less when we’re talking about rehabilitation programs. I think they both have very different requirements. But I think it’s something we’re only just really beginning to understand fully.”

Here’s one thing all sloth species have in common: in the forest, they're really good at being sloths. Overall, they’re quite successful and common throughout Central and South America. Their uniqueness works in the trees. The problem is, it doesn’t work well outside the forest, which is constantly getting smaller thanks to human encroachment. 


Beyond their physiology, much of the mystery surrounding sloths has to do with their interactions: namely, how they interact with their environment and with each other.

Thanks to the training and now the tracking, Trull is gathering a lot of new data about how they navigate their environment. One key insight: in order to survive, a sloth must be a careful cartographer of its local forest.

“For sloths, one of the most important things for them to learn is to basically map out the forest in their minds and to learn where they’re going,” she says. “That’s their biggest obstacle.”

She compares them to monkeys. “They’re similarly sized, and they’re both mammals that are arboreal,” Trull says. “But monkeys can just bounce around from tree to tree—bing bing bing! It’s no problem. And they can also see their food from far away. They can be like, ‘Oh, I want to bounce over to that tree that’s 15 meters away because they have some really big yummy berries.’”

Sloths are incapable of such improvised exploration, Trull says. “They need to know that tree’s there, they need to know they can get there, they need to know they can cross every single route through the forest and that berries will be waiting for them, because they can’t waste energy climbing 15 meters through a puzzle maze of trees just to get there and have no food.”

Cliffe says sloths are “masters of energy savings.” Every movement happens at the same speed, from blinking to grasping. She recently studied the metabolic rate of wild sloths by injecting them with doubly labeled water (in which certain isotopes of hydrogen or oxygen are replaced to allow for easier tracking) to measure how much energy they used during a two-week period. Sloths don’t eat much, because it can take them 30 days to digest the leaves in their diet.

“The energy supply is so restricted, that they have to save energy or they’re not going to be able to get from this tree to the next tree where they know they can eat the leaves safely,” she says. “I like to say they’re on the edge of the ‘energy budget.’ If they spend too much energy doing one thing, they’re not just going to have anything left to compensate. I don’t know if there are many other mammals that live quite on the edge like that. But they’re doing it quite well. They’ve been around for about 64 million years, so they’ve got the balance just about right. And it’s happening in both kinds of sloths, they’re just doing it in different ways.”

That likely explains their strategy from getting from place to place, Trull says. Once they find a route between points, they take it again and again. This also explains why roads are so dangerous to sloths. They don’t improvise well.  

A wild sloth crossing the road

Observing their locomotion has been revealing. Sloths use their body weight and careful timing to move from branch to branch. They also follow a basic rule that all rock climbers (and ladder users) know: always maintain three points of contact. Sloths have three limbs on the next branch before they let go of the previous one, Trull says.

Two-toed sloths also appear to be nearsighted, so visual acuity isn’t much of a factor in their forest navigation. Unlike a monkey, which can spot a sweet treat in your hand from far away, a sloth can’t see very far. That means they’re likely unable to spot food from a distance. They can’t rely on their eyes to plot a course.

Caribbean sloth in tree

All of this has both Trull and Cliffe curious about the nature of sloth intelligence. “The fact that have to have these mental maps of the forest just to get around must show some level of memory ability,” Trull says. “Also, I think—and I don’t really have any evidence yet to back this up except my gut, but—they definitely get a bad rap for being stupid and lazy. Yes, they’re slow, but their slowness is a part of their genius.”

While Trull is still mulling over a study design to test out sloth intelligence, Cliffe has attempted to measure it. “It didn’t go well,” she admits. They placed a three-toed sloth in an outdoor tree maze. It didn’t move. At all. “We gave up in the end. When sloths aren’t sure what’s going on or where they are, they sit still. That’s their defense mechanism.”

Cliffe says, “I don’t think they’re intelligent in the way you think a monkey or a dog is intelligent, but they’re smart in their own way in their mental maps and their memory.” In her six years of tracking, she could predict which branch of which tree they’d be on during a given day. “But if you cut that tree down, they’d be stumped. I think they’re smart in the ways they need to be, but beyond that, there’s not much there.”


Whatever their baseline intelligence, to survive and reproduce, sloths need to have some sort of social intelligence. While sloths are classified as solitary creatures, it’s clear there’s a strong bond between mother and offspring, and the orphan sloths in Trull’s care rely on each other for companionship, play, and comfort. As we mentioned, two-toed sloths kiss, sometimes upon encountering each other.


In the wild, there’s also the issue of sharing the forest. Kermie and Diablo have now scuffled three times (Kermie won twice), but another wild male in the vicinity shows little tendency to mix it up. What this indicates about sloth social structure is unclear, Trull says—“We’re still so new in our research”—but she notes that one previous study found what may be an “alpha” sloth with a group of females.

While they haven’t observed that behavior, it’s something to keep in mind when planning to release sloths. “The ratio of sexes in the wild is probably pretty important,” she says. “We probably shouldn’t release too many sloths in one area, because they’re just going to end up fighting, eventually.”

Diablo has also shown interest in Ellie. If they decide to mate, we know the basics of how that might unfold. Like humans, a female sloth goes into estrus once a month for about a week. She’ll make a high-pitched scream to attract a male. After mating, he’ll guard her for three or four days, and then the two will go their separate ways. 

“In terms of everything else, we don’t really know much about it,” Cliffe says. “There’s very limited observation as to what’s going on.”

After mothers raise their babies, which takes about six months, they leave the territory to their child, and move on themselves. But their ranges aren’t big, males and females live near each other, and sloths live quite a long time; one 25-year-old sloth Cliffe has observed is still going into estrus. That means generations of sloths can overlap in specific regions. Which makes Cliffe wonder: “How are they not inbred? Or maybe they are really inbred. Maybe that’s why they’re so weird.”

Cliffe has hair samples of all the sloths she’s been tracking, and a genetic analysis is underway that will reveal their genetic diversity—or lack thereof. “It’ll show me who is related to whom, and who’s the father of which baby,” she says. “So we’re going to get a lot of information from it.”

Kermie and Ellie are soon to be joined in the wild by Monster and Piper, both three-toed sloths. They’ve been in the boot camp cage for months. They’re slated for soft release on May 1, and they too will be collared and tracked.

Monster, who came in at two weeks old and is now 2.5 years old, is “my slothy soulmate,” Trull says. “Releasing her will be very emotional. I’m so excited for her. She’s done amazingly. Obviously, through the whole process, you know that they’re wild animals. But it’s also very amazing and reassuring to see their instincts kick in with certain things. At least they’re coming at this with some knowledge, and I don’t have to teach them everything. But to see them learn everything I’ve taught them is very rewarding as well.”

Hopefully, Monster and Piper will fare as well as Kermie and Ellie have. Trull and her team will continue to monitor their lives, all the while preparing the next batch of sloths for release.

a sloth eating a hibiscus flower

In Slothlove, the animals look downy, soft, and clean. That’s not because Trull ever gave them a bath. Being hand-raised by a human, they simply spent less time in the wild. But now Kermie and Ellie are out and about, and they’re changing. They have little interest in Trull, which is exactly what she was hoping for. Their fur is growing algae. And their scent is different.

“As they become more wild, their smell has changed. They smell really good now,” Trull says. “Not that they smelled bad, but Ellie and Kermie smell distinctly different hanging out in the trees all the time than they did before that—which is interesting.”

Their new scent is kind of a subtle testament to the fact that they seem to be moving—slowly, of course—towards a fully wild life in the forest. “It’s probably just coming from being in the trees and whatever saps that are getting on them from sleeping and moving in the trees versus living in my living room or sleeping in bags,” Trull says. “But they smell like trees now.” 

All photos © Sam Trull in Slothlove

You can keep up with the Sloth Institute’s work at their website, as well as through Trull’s Tumblr and Twitter feeds. And if you’d like to support their work, you can donate here.

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Animals
Atlanta Shelters Give Pups a Temporary Home for the Holidays
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The holidays are looking a little brighter for adoptable dogs from two animal shelters in Atlanta, Georgia. As ABC News reports, a new program called Home for the Pawlidays is providing temporary homes to longer-term residents of Fulton County Animal Services and DeKalb County Animal Services for the week of Thanksgiving.

The initiative was organized by Atlanta's LifeLine Animal Project, a local group dedicated to providing healthcare and homes to shelter dogs. The dogs that were chosen for the project may be older, have special health needs, or other issues that make it more difficult to find them forever homes.

But from November 18 to 25, the dogs are getting to spend time away from the shelter and in the homes of loving foster families.

“We were thinking, everyone gets a break from work, and they should get a break from the shelter,” LifeLine’s public relations director Karen Hirsch told ABC News.

Some caretakers have already fallen in love with their four-legged house guests. Foster Heather Koth told ABC that she hadn’t been considering adoption, but after meeting Missy the shelter dog, she now plans to foster her until she has a permanent home or possibly adopt the dog herself.

And for the dogs that can’t be kept by their temporary owners, just a week of quality playtime and sleeping in a real bed can make a huge impact. You can check out photos of the pets who are benefiting from the program this week below.

[h/t ABC News]

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holidays
25 Things You Didn't Know About Turkeys
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Most of us probably associate turkey with a sumptuous Thanksgiving spread, but there’s a lot more to the big bird than how delicious it is alongside your grandma’s famous cranberry sauce. Here are a few bits of knowledge you can drop over the dinner table—when you’re not fighting with your family over white meat or dark meat, that is.

1. THE NORTH AMERICAN WILD TURKEY POPULATION WAS ALMOST WIPED OUT.

Wild turkey
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Wild turkeys once roamed the continent en masse, but by the early 20th century, the entire U.S. population had been whittled down to a mere 30,000 due to hunting and the destruction of their woodland habitats. In the 1940s, many of the remaining birds were relocated to parts of the U.S. with recovering woodlands so the turkeys could repopulate. Despite these efforts, by 1973, there were still just 1.5 million wild turkeys in North America. Today, that number is up to about 6 million.

2. TURKEY APPENDAGES ARE LIKE MOOD RINGS.

Wild turkey
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The dangly appendage that hangs from the turkey’s forehead to the beak is called a snood. The piece that hangs from the chin is the wattle. These fleshy flaps can change color according to the turkey’s physical and mental health—when a male turkey (called a tom, of course) is trying to attract a mate, the snood and wattle turn bright red. If the turkey is scared, the appendages take on a blue tint. And if the turkey is ailing, they become very pale.

3. TURKEYS CAN FLY.

Wild turkey in flight
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Well, domestic turkeys that are bred to be your Thanksgiving centerpiece can’t. They’re too heavy. But wild turkeys can, reportedly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Though they don’t go very far—usually less than 100 yards—wild turkeys are among the five largest flying birds in the world. They’re in good company: Others on the list include the swan and the albatross.

4. THEY CAN ALSO SWIM.

Wild turkey drinking water
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Turkeys don’t swim often, it seems, but they can, by tucking their wings in, spreading their tails, and kicking. In 1831, John James Audubon wrote, “I have been told by a friend that a person residing in Philadelphia had a hearty laugh on hearing that I had described the Wild Turkey as swimming for some distance, when it had accidentally fallen into the water. But be assured, kind reader, almost every species of land-bird is capable of swimming on such occasions, and you may easily satisfy yourself as to the accuracy of my statement by throwing a Turkey, a Common Fowl, or any other bird into the water.”

5. TURKEY POOP CAN TELL YOU A LOT.

A handler picking up turkey poop at the White House Turkey Pardon in 2013.

The next time you happen across turkey poop—which happens all the time, we know—take a closer look at it. If the droppings are shaped like a “J,” they were left there by a male turkey. Spiral-shaped poo? The culprit is female.

The citizens of Pilot Rock, Oregon, probably don’t much care about the shape of the stuff, but more about the quantity of it. Earlier this year, Pilot Rock turned to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for help combating a flock of 50 to 70 wild turkeys that would periodically invade the town, destroy gardens, perch in trees, and poop on pickup trucks. The ODFW offered several solutions, but as far as we know the turkeys still rule the roost at Pilot Rock.

6. TURKEY PROBABLY WASN'T ON THE PILGRIMS' MENU.

A recreation of the Pilgrims' first settlement
iStock

Thanks to historical records, we know for sure that the Wampanoag brought deer, and the English brought fowl—likely ducks and geese.

7. BEN FRANKLIN DIDN'T REALLY WANT THE TURKEY TO BE OUR NATIONAL BIRD.

A drawing of Ben Franklin.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Handout

You may have heard that at least one of our Founding Fathers lobbied hard to make the turkey our national symbol instead of the noble bald eagle. That’s not quite true, but in a letter to his daughter, he did expound on the character of each, which may be where the rumor got started:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

8. ANOTHER TURKEY FAN: ALEXANDER HAMILTON.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Yep, A. Ham liked turkey. In fact, he thought eating turkey was practically a god-given right, and once remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

9. TEDDY ROOSEVELT BELIEVED THE BIRDS WERE CUNNING PREY.

Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Africa.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Stringer

Ol’ TR may have been accustomed to hunting big game, but wild turkeys held a special place in his heart. He believed they were every bit as challenging to hunt as deer. In his 1893 book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and the Wilderness Hunter, he wrote, “The wild turkey really deserves a place beside the deer; to kill a wary old gobbler with the small-bore rifle, by fair still-hunting, is a triumph for the best sportsman.”

10. WILD TURKEYS HAVE BETTER VISION THAN YOU DO.

Close up of wild turkey's head
iStock

Their fantastic vision is probably one reason Teddy Roosevelt found turkeys such a challenge to hunt. They can detect motion from many yards away, have vision three times greater than 20/20, and have peripheral vision of about 270 degrees. Ours, comparatively, is only 180. And although turkeys can’t see in 3D, they can see UVA light, which helps them better identify predators, prey, mates, and food.

11. THE TOP TURKEY-PRODUCING STATE MAY SURPRISE YOU.

Domesticated turkeys on a farm
iStock

You may know Minnesota for producing Prince, the Mall of America, and Target. But we also have the Land of 10,000 Lakes to thank for our Thanksgiving turkeys. According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, approximately 46-48 million turkeys are produced in Minnesota every year. In fact, it’s where the turkey that receives a presidential pardon hails from every year. Speaking of which ...

12. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON MAY DATE BACK TO ABE LINCOLN.

President Barack Obama pardons a turkey in 2011.
Getty / Mark Wilson / Staff

Officially, the tradition of the sitting president of the United States pardoning his Thanksgiving turkey dates back to John F. Kennedy, who decided to let his gift from the National Turkey Federation off the hook. But he wasn't the first president to let a turkey go free: When Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad befriended one of the birds intended for Christmas dinner in 1863, kind-hearted Abe granted it a stay of execution.

13. THE FIRST TV DINNER MEAL: THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS

Thanksgiving TV dinner
iStock

In 1953, Swanson ended up with 10 train cars full of frozen turkeys—260 tons of them—when an overzealous buyer ordered too many turkeys for the holidays. Salesman Gerry Thomas solved the problem by ordering 5,000 aluminum trays and setting up an assembly line of workers to scoop dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes into the compartments. Slices of turkey rounded out the meal, which Swanson sold for 98 cents. The idea was a hit: The following year, 10 million turkey TV dinners were sold.

14. NATIONAL TURKEY LOVERS’ MONTH ISN’T WHEN YOU THINK.

Grilled meats on a silver tray
iStock

Everyone eats turkey in November and December, so there’s not a lot of need for extra poultry promotion during those months. If you want to celebrate National Turkey Lovers’ Month, you’ll have to do it in June with some turkey brats and burgers on the grill.

15. THE TURKEY YOU’LL BE EATING IS PROBABLY ABOUT 18 WEEKS OLD.

Roasted turkey on a platter
iStock

That’s how long it typically takes the birds to grow to maturity, which is when they’re usually slaughtered.

16. THERE WAS ALMOST A TURKEY SIDEKICK IN POCAHONTAS.

Loren Javier via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

At one point, Disney thought Pocahontas needed a little comic relief, so they hired John Candy to voice a wisecracking woodland fowl named Red Feather. Sadly, Candy passed away while the logistics were being worked out, so animators dropped the turkey entirely and opted for a clever raccoon named Meeko.

17. NOT ALL TURKEYS GOBBLE.

Close up shot of a wild turkey
iStock

If you hear a turkey making the distinctive noise we all associate with them, then you’re hearing a male communicating with his lady friends up to a mile away. Females make a clicking sound instead of a gobble.

18. IF YOU DON’T EAT TURKEY AT THANKSGIVING, YOU’RE IN THE MINORITY.

A black and white photo of a family gathering around the table as the mother brings in a turkey.
Getty / Evans / Stringer

According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.

19. TURKEY CRAVINGS CAUSED A SPIKE IN KFC SALES IN JAPAN.

A large Kentucky Fried Chicken sign
iStock

When KFC opened its first stores in Japan in the 1970s, the company was surprised to find that sales soared during the holidays. The phenomenon stymied executives since most of Japan celebrates neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas. It was later discovered that foreigners craving holiday turkey had decided that KFC’s chicken was the next best thing. After the company figured this out, they played up the association with their “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” campaign—“Kentucky for Christmas.” It worked on tourists and locals alike, and today, Christmas Eve is still the highest-selling day for KFC Japan.

20. THERE IS PROPER TURKEY TERMINOLOGY.

A flock of turkeys on a farm with one staring directly into the camera.
Getty / Cate Gillon / Staff

You probably know that a group of turkeys is a flock, but they can also properly be called a “rafter.” And should you want to call baby turkeys something a little more precise, you can call them “poults.”

21. THE MAYA USED TURKEYS AS SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS.

A Maya tripod plate featuring a bird
Los Angeles County Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Archaeologists have found vases dating from 250-800 CE that have turkeys depicted on them. According to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee art historian Andrea Stone, "turkeys were quintessential animals for feasting and for sacrificial offerings." The Maya even crafted tamales shaped like the birds.

22. DURING THE ‘70S, YOU COULD CALL JULIA CHILD FOR TURKEY ADVICE ON THANKSGIVING.

Julia Child in her kitchen in 1978
Lynn Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Even when she was at peak popularity, the famous chef refused to remove her phone number from public listings. According to friends, complete strangers would call Child on Thanksgiving to ask for advice on cooking the perfect turkey. Julia always answered the phone, and typically told callers whatever they needed to hear to get them to relax and enjoy the holiday. She even told some amateur cooks that turkey was best served cold anyway.

23. BIG BIRD IS A TURKEY.

Big Bird and Elmo at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Getty / Matthew Peyton / Stringer

Well, according to Sesame Street, he’s actually a canary—but his plumage makes him a turkey. The good people at American Plume & Fancy Feather provide Sesame Street with several thousand turkey feathers per costume to make sure Big Bird looks soft and fluffy.

24. THE BIRD IS NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
iStock

But the whole thing was a mistake. Centuries ago, the English began to import a rather tasty bird, now known as a helmeted guinea fowl, from Madagascar. But they didn’t know it was from Africa. Because it was imported to Europe from merchants in Turkey, the English believed the birds were also Turkish.

Later, when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they discovered Meleagris gallopavo—the wild turkey. It was delicious, so they started importing it back to Europe. Europeans thought it tasted like the “turkey” guinea fowl they had been enjoying, so they called it the same thing.

25. WHAT, EXACTLY, IS DARK MEAT?

Roasted turkey legs on a piece of butcher paper
iStock

It’s just a different type of muscle than white meat. White meat is the result of glycogen, which doesn't need much oxygen from the blood because the muscles it fuels only require short bursts of energy. Dark meat, however, is found on wings, thighs, and drumsticks—muscles that are used for long periods of time and require more sustainable energy. It’s made dark by the proteins that convert fat into energy.

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